Last week, four Republican Attorneys General publicly ripped the nation’s leading attorneys general association, claiming that it has become too partisan, while also alleging that the organization’s financial management practices have “fallen short” of their expectations. The National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG) is open to membership to state attorneys general from across the country, regardless of political party.
The group has historically helped coordinate state legal actions and lawsuits on the national level, including lawsuits against opioid manufacturers and other multi-state lawsuits and legal actions that have occasionally led to large settlements. Florida’s Ashley Moody is a member of the organization, and two weeks ago was appointed to a NAAG committee helping to coordinate interstate sex trafficking prosecutions. Moody has not voiced any concerns about the group’s partisanship or financial management.
Initially, three Republicans voiced concerns and announced their departure from the organization: Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, and Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen. All three signed a public letter on May 4th addressed to NAAG leadership saying that they plan to end their respective state’s membership due to concerns that have developed over the last five years. The trio also cited the recent exit of a fourth Republican, Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall, who exited NAAG last year citing similar concerns.
The news of the trio’s departure was followed by Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich, who announced his departure from NAAG on May 9th.
“Our Office might consider a future membership at such a time as NAAG employs new leadership and provides an action plan to address our concerns,” Brnovich said in his departure letter. “We look forward to discussing next steps to effectuating our withdrawal.”
A spokesperson for NAAG downplayed the news, saying that the departing members have been valued participants in the organization since they were elected.
“While we are disappointed in their decision, NAAG would welcome [them] as active members at any time,” said Allison Gilmore, Chief Communications Officer for the association.
Among the biggest criticisms of the group, and the most salient for Florida, are the allegations that NAAG collects a disproportionate share of funds from legal settlements obtained by multi-state lawsuits, such as the recent opioid settlement with McKinsey & Company. When the $573 million lawsuit was settled, NAAG received a larger portion of the settlement than most of the states that helped bring the lawsuit. Montana, for example, received only $1.9 million.
By contrast, Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody helped negotiate a $40 million share for victims in the Sunshine State as part of the same settlement. Moody’s office did not respond to messages seeking comment for this story.
Her fellow Republicans, however, have been very outspoken on the subject. Despite collecting $38.4 million from the opioid settlement last year, Texas’s Paxton nevertheless was critical about NAAG’s financial management with respect to the way it handles settlement money. He, along with Schmitt and Knudsen, singled out the settlement fund management as a key concern.
“We bear a solemn responsibility to our taxpayers and as trustees of major settlement funds,” the men wrote in the letter. “The responses to our stated concerns about NAAG’s financial management and practices have fallen short of the assurances we need to continue being faithful stewards of those funds.”
The letter explained that all three Republican attorneys general raised those concerns and more with NAAG’s senior leadership but determined that although the organization listened, no action was taken, nor was there any indication that anything would change in the future.
But Gilmore pushed back on the complaint about NAAG’s financial management, pointing out that settlement monies are distributed according to previous agreements between the attorneys general that were involved in each litigated matter, and that a bipartisan group of attorneys general are responsible for evaluating grant requests and disseminating any grant funds for use by requesting attorney general offices.
“NAAG is transparent with its members about the money distributed from the funds it administers, providing annual reports to members on each settlement fund, as required by the rules and regulations governing each fund,” Gilmore said. “Information can also be requested in this regard at any time by any NAAG member.”